Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Poe Shadow

The Poe Shadow

by Matthew Pearl

1. Aside from Quentin, most of the novel’s characters in this 1849 setting do not appreciate or read Edgar Allan Poe's works, and this fact in part provokes Quentin to try and rescue Poe's name. Why do you think Poe means so much to Quentin?

2. If you have read Poe, what are your thoughts about his work? Is there any author, from past or present, whom you would "fight" for as much as Quentin does for Poe?

3. In addition to serving as physical locales, Baltimore and Paris may be said to serve as "characters" in the book. What do the cities add to the novel, and what kinds of details bring alive their histories?

4. The word "shadow" is used in many different ways in the novel. Quentin tells us, "Poe once wrote in a tale about the conflict between the substance and the shadow inside of us. The substance, what we know we should do, and the shadow, the dangerous and giggling Imp of the Perverse, the dark knowledge of what we must or will do or secretly want. The shadow always prevails." What are possible meanings of the title The Poe Shadow?

5. If you had been in Quentin's position at the end of the novel, would you have made the information on Poe's death public, or kept it private?

6. What do you think would have happened if Quentin had met Poe before Poe died? Do you think this would have made his personal quest more or less important to him?

From Publishers Weekly
Pearl's second historical thriller involving literary figures (after 2003's The Dante Club) is set in 1849, when young lawyer Quentin Clark's desire to burnish the tarnished reputation of his favorite author-poet, the recently deceased Edgar Allan Poe, drives him to such extremes he eventually winds up on trial for insanity and murder. His defense forms the novel. Singer provides Clark with a splendidly appropriate voice: young, intelligent, yet naïve and idealistic. He's also adept at capturing the attorney's shifting moods, from his indignation at journalists' shoddy send off of Poe (labeling him a debaucher and drunk) to an increasing obsession as he puts his practice and his impending marriage on hold, ocean-hopping to Europe to seek the aid of the real-life model for Poe's genius-sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin. Some listeners may raise an eyebrow at Singer's use of fractured French for one of the Dupins and an equally arch British accent for the other. They should be reminded that all of the characters are being filtered through the sensibilities (and vocal capabilities) of a not terribly sophisticated Baltimore barrister.

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